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Colombian Nanny State Continues to Invade Our Private Lives

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Sep 9, 2014, 10:51 am

EspañolOver the course of the last week, three situations transpired in Colombia that demonstrated a high level of government interference into the private lives of individuals, each with its own undesirable implications.

In the first case, two government officials, Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism Cecilia Álvarez, and Minister of Education Gina Parody, revealed that they are involved in a romantic relationship. The response to this revelation has resulted in a debate that absurdly accuses President Juan Manuel Santos of appointing the couple to further a “homosexual agenda.” The ministers contend they were chosen based on their individual merits. However, moralists and homophobes in the government, such as Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, disagree.

Whether or not these two government officials are a couple is a private matter. What ought to be causing a stir is that both are high-level government officials in the same administration, demonstrating the degree to which political power is concentrated in Colombia. For the most part, government officials all come from the same families, and create new ones among themselves.

Therefore, the problem is not the ministers’ sexuality, but rather the fact that the state should not be co-opted by a few ruling families who will naturally defend their own interests. This should serve as a starting point for a debate on the need to further limit the influence of the Colombian state, rather than a morbid discussion of the private affairs of government officials, or a new outlet for the expression of homophobia in Colombia.

In a separate case occurring almost simultaneously, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a lesbian woman attempting to legally adopt the daughter of her partner. The court’s decision, however, does not open the door for all homosexual couples to adopt. The ruling only applies if the child in question is the biological offspring of one of the partners in the relationship.

While this is a step forward in the recognition of the rights of homosexuals as individuals, the debate must extend beyond the realm of morality. What remains to be discussed is the state’s slow and late response to recognizing indisputable realities that cannot be legislated away. Our focus should be on a broader discussion on the need to marginalize the role of the state in all of these decisions.

In another case last week, the Administrative Court in the Colombian department of Cundinamarca ordered the suspension of the art exhibit “Hidden Women.” The religious group Catholic Vote called the exhibit an affront to their beliefs. In order to protect the supposed rights of the group, the court decided it would violate the rights of others by invoking a Constitutional writ of protection. In Colombia, a writ of protection is a mechanism for restoring violated rights, but it continues to be used to defend rights that do not exist — like health care, for example — and generate greater state action.

All three cases reflect the prejudices that still exist in Colombian society around the taboo subject of sexuality and free expression. Homosexuality remains a polarizing issue, and one that is met with rejection by certain segments of society. This cannot be avoided, sanctioned, or eliminated, and neither can homosexuality itself. So, what can be done?

Catholics who were disturbed by the art exhibit should not be forced to view, let alone value, the things that offend them. However, they also should not be allowed to use the state to prevent those who do enjoy such displays from experiencing them.

Morality is not defined by the state, nor is it the state’s function to protect or defend any specific type of morality. Contrary to what some progressives believe, it is not the state’s role to punish those who violate political correctness. It is true that homophobes and purists are guided by their own prejudices and hatreds, but no one should prevent them from doing so.

Life in an open society, as Karl Popper calls it, does not eliminate dissimilar positions on such morally charged issues. However, an open society provides opportunity for everyone to participate in a harmonious space, without state intervention. Should that harmony be broken, through persecution or violence, then the state should act to defend humanity and individual rights.

Therefore, when it comes to our private lives, it is not enough to simply limit the state. Individuals must learn to allow other individuals to decide their own relationships, associations, and what causes they value.

Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.